Utilizing Employee Resource Groups For Remote Employee Engagement
The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced us to learn how to navigate a remote workplace with little transition. The questions many executives once had regarding how productive employees would be online, whether business can still thrive with little to no face to face interactions, and whether teams could be managed as effectively virtually have swiftly been answered as many companies abruptly moved their operations to the living rooms of their employees.
One question still remains: How sustainable are remote work practices for employees?
Several people operations and human resources leaders have turned their attention to the next hurdle of the work from home experiment - motivation. As periods of remote work extend, more and more employees are suffering from a decrease in productivity, lack of motivation, or a feeling of disengagement. There are several ways, however, to reverse this trend. In addition to the advice Ellevate Network CEO, Kristy Wallace, has shared around caregiving and work, a key aspect of continued remote employee engagement stems from the very tools our workplaces utilize in-person: employee resource groups.
Creating cultural committees and events (29%) and offering employee resource groups (%20) are cited as two of the most popular methods to drive employee engagement. It should be no surprise that the lack of these in-person practices have taken a toll on employee engagement. These groups do not only give employees a way to get to know those with shared identities, but also provide a space to engage and learn with those who they might not be directly working with. While allowing employees to get a better sense of their customer base, ERGs also serve as spaces where employees feel welcome, gain access to senior leadership and can take on roles that build new skills. When reestablishing your employee resource groups online during the pandemic, here are a few key points to keep in mind:
- Virtual ERGs Are Not a Nice-to-Do, but a Necessity. The first employee resource groups, or “workplace affinity groups” as they were titled, were formed in response to racial strife of the 1960s. Today, ERGs effectively foster collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and celebrate diversity in addition to demonstrating key value in retention, branding, and employee development. Recent data shows that racial and gender inequalities have increased during the pandemic and it’s critical that diverse groups have a safe space to share and act on their experiences. During particularly difficult times, having safe spaces such as your ERGs where employees can unite and show support for one another will not only increase your employee engagement, but also strengthen your employees’ commitment to the organization itself.
- Align ERG Efforts with Current Events. Our world is evolving at an unprecedented speed and your ERGs should be a part of the changing normal. Consider hosting guests or having conversations that can unpack today’s problems from the viewpoint of your ERG. For example, you can discuss the increased racial violence towards Asian and Pacific Islanders or watch an Ellevate webinar on the increased impact of the pandemic on women. Although your ERGs might not be able to host conferences or work alongside the community, employee resource groups can still underline your company’s commitment to supporting communities most at risk. Encourage your ERGs to work with groups responding to the pandemic - sending female hygiene products to shelters, virtually tutoring at-risk students, or raising funds to cover Ramadan dinners for families are just some ways your ERGs can alleviate the pain of the pandemic.
- Welcome Others, Virtually. It is always important to give allies and advocates the opportunity to get involved with your ERGs. During a time when employees are more physically distanced, it’s even more important. When working remotely, more conversations might be taking place in non-diverse crowds and many might be going through their weeks only seeing those who are in their immediate team. Utilize your ERGs, and external resources such as online events, to bridge the gap: virtual coffee hours, lunch and learns, or happy hours hosted by ERGs can serve as natural gathering points for members and allies. These spaces can both raise awareness on the issue areas important to your ERG and increase employee communication. In fact, as travel commitments decrease significantly, virtual ERG spaces may make for a great way to easily engage your company’s senior leadership. Benefiting from their support now can strengthen your ERG once you are back in the office. By giving individuals ways to virtually be involved with ERGs, you will set up a strong foundation for these groups to increase their impact upon returning to the workplace.
Employee resource groups are a critical piece of your remote engagement plan, and there are organizations like Ellevate Network that make it easy for you to form ones that is both effective and impactful. And for those who act early, ERGs may even be a golden ticket to “business as usual” as we start thinking about what return to work will look like. While work from home continues to be the norm for many, it is key to keep employee engagement top of mind in order to be best prepared for what is to come in a post-coronavirus world. It is certain that recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint - and those with engaged and supported employees will have the strategic edge.
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